What is the Roku Streaming Stick Plus?
The last quarter of 2017 has been very busy in the world of video focussed streamers, with new releases including the Apple TV 4K and the Amazon Fire TV 3, as well as the NVIDIA SHIELD TV offering a new remote-only option, so Roku very much has a major fight on its hands to regain prominence in the market. All of those devices offer streaming – including Ultra HD and HDR - from services including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, iTunes, Google Movies & TV, NOW TV and BBC iPlayer although none offer, what we consider, the full deck of all of the major VOD players in one box. Can Roku once more make itself truly relevant in the UK market and is the Streaming Stick Plus up to the fight? Let’s find out…
Design & Connections
Setup, Menus & Interface
Streaming Channels (Apps)
Roku’s good relations with Sky means the Roku platform also benefits from full integration with NOW TV for sports, live channels, kids and movies but this is one Sky service looking ever more unimpressive with its maximum 720p resolution, two channel stereo output. Speaking of resolution, the Roku Streaming Stick plus has Ultra HD and/or HDR (High Dynamic Range) offerings from Netflix, Amazon and YouTube and also gets in on the (very limited for the time being) Ultra HD trials from BBC iPlayer. It should be noted that, for the time being, the Amazon channel is 'restricted' to Ultra HD so there's no HDR but we're told that Roku is working on HDR support and it should hopefully happen soon. The Roku can also output seven channel Dolby Atmos (Dolby Digital+ variety) over HDMI but there are no Channels taking advantage of that in the UK, at present. The Amazon and YouTube channels are also custom versions for Roku which means they get better integration with the platform than we see with others; the YouTube even previews content in the thumbnails which is something we’ve not seen before. The Roku platform even gets a custom version of Google Play Movies & TV, although, as yet, there is no UHD content on it although it is very thin on the ground for its UK customers, in any case, on any platform.
The Roku Players have never really been considered great choices for local or networked media playback. The lack of auto refresh rate switching was a drawback, for one, and there’s a dearth of media centre channels, too, notably KODI. Things are certainly better on this front now, although the Streaming Stick Plus definitely would be at the top of our choices. We find the best alternative for media streaming – by quite some margin – to be PLEX, especially since it can now dynamically adjust refresh rate. The Roku PLEX channel (client) is another custom version and it is, quite simply the best we’ve seen on any device in terms of presentation. It is capable of Ultra HD playback up to 60 frames per second and it played most of our HDR tests, too. In terms of audio, it was able to pass multichannel but not HD audio formats, e.g. DTS-HD MA & Dolby True HD, where just the core DTS or Dolby Digital track would play. The major drawback of PLEX is that it needs a back-end device to act as the server but if you already have one running, as we do on our NAS, the Streaming Stick Plus is remarkably capable with the super wireless performance allowing us to stream bitrates of up to 60Mb/s without issue.
- Auto refresh rate switching for all apps
- The most comprehensive selection of mainstream apps in the UK market
- Very simple to use
- Excellent Wi-Fi
- Very good remote with IR functions
- Very competitively priced
- 4K HDR support
- Unified search is excellent
- Great app
- Some HDMI handshake problems
- Private listening issues
- No Bluetooth
- Missing some Roku services available in the US
- No voice assistant
Roku Streaming Stick Plus Review
Should I buy one?Roku is back in the UK with a bang. The Streaming Stick Plus, in many ways, is now the standard by which we will judge the other mainstream boxes on the market. The Roku platform has more of the major streaming applications than the likes of the Apple TV 4K, Amazon Fire TV 3 and NVIDIA SHIELD TV. In terms of UK centric services, those include iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5 and TVPlayer. The Streaming Stick Plus also brings to the table 4K and HDR streaming from Netflix, Amazon and YouTube and HD from Google Play Movies & TV. The Roku Streaming Stick+ is also now setting the standard for video playback with near faultless, system wide, automatic refresh rate switching – matching the frame rate to the video signal to ensure smooth playback of all content and the Roku also effortlessly switches between High and Standard Dynamic Range, when called upon.
Apple TV 4K proponents will point to the lack of Dolby Vision HDR and iTunes and those are valid reasons to choose Cupertino’s device but then it costs the best part of a £100 more and doesn’t have 4K or HDR YouTube, Google Movies & TV or any UK catch-up services bar iPlayer and even that is a dated, somewhat limited version of the BBC’s VoD service. For the time being, at least, the ATV 4K can’t automatically adjust refresh rate or dynamic range, either. The NVIDIA SHIELD also costs a minimum of £100 extra and lacks widespread support for refresh rate switching with only KODI, PLEX & TV Mosaic that we know of using it. The SHIELD TV also lacks All 4, Demand 5, a native NOW TV app and HDR YouTube (it does do 4K) but it’s a better alternative if you value local and/or networked playback of your own media content. That said, the Roku PLEX client is very good and only really lacks HD audio passthrough but it’s definitely the best-looking version of PLEX we’ve seen
Roku also boasts the best dedicated mobile app in the business with a (flawed) Private Listening option, a keyboard that makes signing in to services a breeze, casting features and voice search. On the last point, we think the Fire TV 3 rules the roost with Alexa and Siri on the ATV 4K is also far more capable than Roku’s efforts in this direction. Heck, even the SHIELD’s half-hearted (outside the US) implementation of Google voice control trumps the Roku so that’s an area that could be improved but then the Roku offers the best unified content search, over various services, which could be more important to you. The Fire TV 3 also trails the Roku in terms of mainstream app support, with the lack of NOW TV and Play Movies & TV the most glaring examples of that. It is also, for the time being, incapable of refresh rate switching or even a ‘film mode’ option to select manually.
There is no real ‘best’ when it comes to choosing a video streamer, it’s all about matching an individual devices’ capabilities to your exact needs but, in our estimation, the Roku Streaming Stick Plus offers the best selection of big-hitting services, the best (and simplest) interface, the best video playback and the best dedicated mobile app. For those reasons, and more, you will be unsurprised to learn that we’re awarding it a Best Buy badge.
Networking, Internet, Streaming quality
Set up, Menus, Remote
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
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